In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson

By Betty Bao Lord


Lord, Bette Bao. In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. Illus by Marc Simont. 169 pp. Harper Trophy, 1984. ISBN 0-06-4410175-8 (pbk.) 4.95.

In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson is a children's novel about a young girl who leaves a secure life within her clan in China following World War II. She begins a new life in America because her father has taken a job as an engineer in the United States. Many Chinese customs and traditions are discussed, along with their importance to Shirley Temple Wong and her family. Shirley's family does not give up their cultural traditions, but they do adopt many American customs in order to adapt to the American way of life.

The reader enjoys many humorous situations as Shrley fails to understand her new culture and the nuances of the English language. It takes her a while to learn her new language, presenting her with many difficult, and sometimes hilarious, outcomes. At first, Shirley desperately wants to fit in with her new classmates by playing stickball or by leaving the school for lunch. Because she is of small stature and doesn't have good ball-handling skills, Shirley has trouble fitting in with her classmates' activities. Her efforts are admirable, but her classmates are not encouraged to include her on their teams. Her habit of bowing to them and her lack of fluent English makes it hard to the children to accept her. Her parents want her to fit in, but they are not adept at helping her. Noticing her quietness and sadness, her father buys her a pair of roller skates. Not knowing how to skate, Shirley becomes bruised and bloodied from her efforts to learn. It isn't until a fellow fifth grader befriends her that she learns how to roller skate and how to play stickball. This friendship helps her enjoy life in a new land, and to feel more a part of this new culture.

She never loses her connection to the culture of her birth, as she still misses the closeness of her clan ane the interaction with her many cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. Bette Bao Lord manages to tie together Shirley's love of her past life in China and her present life in the United States. She is able to "fit in" without losing her ties to the past.

This novel is humorous in its treatment of Shirley's adjustment to her new culture. Its high point is Shirley's meeting with her American hero, the black baseball player Jackie Robinson. Many parallels are drawn between them and their "fitting in," from their being pigeon-toed runners, to their being different from the status quo. Her rabid interest in that most American of sports, baseball, defines her acceptance of her new culture as well as its acceptance of her.

This is a book which would be appealing to children in the third to sixth grade levels because they can identify with Shirley, in all her innocence. Lord has created a sympathetic character without making us pity her. This is a culturally comparative book because there are parallels drawn between both Shirley's life in China and in the United States, but there is no evaluation made as to which is better. There is no goal for Shirley to give up her Chinese culture in order to adapt to the American culture. There seems to be room for both in her life. This novel presents an in-depth look at family relationships, values, religious traditions, child-rearing beliefs, work ethics, and the nature of friendship within Shirley's culture of origin, as well as her adopted culture. Shirley's characterization in the story is strong, and the plot moves quickly and evokes interest. The settings, both in China and in the United States, provide historical knowledge about both countries in the post-war era. Because of this, it would be considered historical fiction. Many lessons of tolerance could be taught in the classroom by using such an entertaining and historically accurate novel.

By Bonny Causutt


In The Year Of The Boar And Jackie Robinson

Bette Bao Lord, illustrated by Marc Simont, Harper Collins Publishers, ISBN 0-06-440175-8


Sixth cousin, otherwise known as Bandit, can only imagine what the letter that Mother, Grandmother, and Grandfather have just read, must say. Bandit knows proper conduct and she must not question her elders. You are to be invited to speak as a child, this is Chinese custom. Bandit celebrates the New Year holidays and in the midst of the holiday carelessly causes dishes to be broken. This means bad luck for three hundred and sixty-five days! Grandmother will be so upset. When sent to Grandmother, she informs Bandit that she will be sent away. Bandit begs, "Please, please, I will never do it again." Grandmother and Grandfather explain that this is not a punishment but that Bandit's father has called for her to come to America, along with her mother. America will now be their home. They will not be returning to Chungking. So now Bandit knows what the letter said!

Bette Lord tells the story of Bandit, Shirley Temple Wong , her new American name, and her struggles to adapt to a new life in a new land. You see the vast differences in the cultures. You see how hard it is for the children to enter the schools not knowing the language or the characteristics of the people in a different country. Courageously, Shirley remains strong and is able to conquer her fear, loneliness, and language barriers. With the constant support of her mother and father, she eventually makes friends. Her classmates begin to understand who Shirley Wong is, where she comes from, and all she has to offer. A bonding takes place with Shirley's peers as they share an interest in the national pastime. Jackie Robinson becomes a metaphor for Shirley's own struggles to assimilate and achieve whatever dreams she may have. What a wonderful story of an individual coming across the world to chase the American dream while melding her traditional customs into the life she now embraces. Any student experiencing transition would appreciate this novel.

This specific, realistic, multicultural story would be an excellent book read orally by a teacher in the grades three and up. It would fit into the curriculum when studying China, immigration, and African American history. It's a nice addition to any classroom library as it would grasp the attention of male and female alike. It certainly portrays the woman as a strong character and that is appreciated. Encourage students to "keep on going" in the beginning of this story as it moves rather slowly and is difficult to understand from the Chinese perspective. The illustrations add dimension and better understanding to the book.

By Terri Viken


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